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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Who's On First?

Pressed on how Iraq would assume sovereignty amid weeks of spiraling violence, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called June 30th "just one step in a process," and not "a magical date" in which the U.S.-led occupation will shift responsibilities to a new Iraqi government.

But at a news conference last Friday with British prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said of the June 30 handover:

"One of the essential commitments we've made to the Iraqi people is this: They will control their own country. No citizen of America or Britain would want the government of their nation in the hands of others and neither do the Iraqis. This is why the June 30th date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept."

Crisco Drippings

This is obviously one of those days designed to make me feel like I'm not completely going crazy. (I'm grateful for this because I have a terrible cold and I feel like driving my car into a guard rail to end the misery.) But, glory of all glories, the Washington Post has published an editorial taking Attorney General Ashcroft to task for his disgraceful testimony last week.

IN HIS TESTIMONY last week before the Sept. 11 commission, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft loosed a remarkable attack on Jamie S. Gorelick, a commission member who served as deputy attorney general during part of the Clinton administration. The "single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem," Ashcroft said, "was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents," and the "basic architecture for the wall . . . was contained in a classified memorandum" from 1995 -- which Mr. Ashcroft had conveniently declassified for the hearing. "Full disclosure," he said, "compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission" -- that is, Ms. Gorelick. Mr. Ashcroft's allegations, which triggered criticism and demands for her resignation from prominent Republicans, are grossly unfair.


Pretending that such a deep-seated institutional problem was Ms. Gorelick's single-handed creation should have been beneath the attorney general.

It wasn't all that much commented upon as far as I can tell, but it truly was one of the most shocking performances by an Attorney General I have ever seen. As I wrote in my mildmannered piece entitled Consummate Prick:

Has there ever been a more blatantly partisan Attorney General than the Crisco Kid? This testimony today was contemptuous, dishonest and disturbingly inappropriate.

I also haven't heard anything from Senator Kill Bill yet about citing Thomas Pickard for perjury:

BEN-VENISTE: And you told the staff according to this statement that Mr. Ashcroft told you that he did not want to hear about this [terrorism] anymore. Is that correct?

PICKARD: That is correct.

Ashcroft denied he ever said that. Somebody's lyin' under oath.

Junior Mint

President-elect Bush asked some practical questions about how things worked, but he did not offer or hint at his desires.

The Joint Chiefs' staff had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later he eyed Cohen's mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a-quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over.

Mmmmm. Candy.

Pushn' Polls

Josh and Atrios discuss the new polls showing Kerry falling behind even though Bush has had the worst couple of weeks of his presidency. Quite rightly, Democrats are asking, "what will it take?" Both bloggers ponder the idea that this is because "the president gains as national security and war issues become more salient, even if they are becoming more salient because of what seem to be objectively bad news about his policies."

I think this is essentially correct. People associate war leadership with Bush and when the war is in the news some still feel a rally 'round the president effect. But more importantly, I think it is because John Kerry was becoming a cipher. Without him out there offering a strong rhetorical counter argument, people who don't pay attention to the details get the impression that he's not offering any alternative.

I said a couple of weeks ago:

It's one thing for Kerry to allow Bush to swing in the wind on the pre-9/11 stuff. Let the widows and the whistleblowers take that on. The less partisanship the better. But, Iraq is something else entirely.

Iraq is a crisis and an ongoing problem and it isn't enough for it to be seen blowing up on television. Kerry has got to convince people that Bush is the problem and that he can fix it. Instead, he's acting clueless and disengaged.

A lot of my readers commented that he shouldn't allow himself to get caught up in a specific plan and that his best bet was to lie low. I agree that he needn't offer a specific plan, but I disagreed that he should lie low. I believe that he needs to offer some hot, critical rhetoric about Bush's mistakes and that he should simply say, over and over again, that Bush can't solve the problem because Bush is the problem. I suggested he say (among other things):

"...this crisis untimately requires a political solution and George W. Bush has run out of political options. A new president and a fresh start are what's required to fix this problem. Only then can we rebuild the trust of our allies and go back to the drawing board with all the parties and set a proper course for a free and democratic Iraq."

Not that I have any illusions that his people are reading this blog, but I was nonetheless I gratified to hear him on Russert and quoted in USA Today saying:

More U.S. troops and a new president could be needed to win international support for U.S. efforts in postwar Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Sunday.The Massachusetts senator said President Bush has created a "quandary" for the nation by failing to develop a broad coalition to fight the war, to secure Iraq and to let countries that didn't fight participate in rebuilding.

"It may well be that we need a new president, a breath of fresh air, to re-establish our credibility with the rest of the world" and bring other countries into Iraq, Kerry said on NBC's Meet the Press.

If Kerry doesn't make it clear that Bush is the problem, there are enough people out there who are likely to do a rally round the flag bit to swing the election. Saying "I've got a plan" every five seconds isn't going to get the job done. It's about framing the election in terms of Junior's mistakes, which considering the news of the last few weeks shouldn't be all that difficult. And it has to be done with the kind of rhetoric that makes the media focus on Kerry.

Up to now, Kerry's people have been convinced that it wasn't his responsibility:

A Kerry spokesman told Salon on Thursday that it's incumbent on Bush -- not Kerry -- to address the crisis in Iraq. "What has the president said about this?" the Kerry spokesman asked. "He needs to explain what his policy is, what his plan is to address what's going on right now. But he's been down on his ranch in Crawford. The spotlight isn't on John Kerry. The spotlight needs to be on Bush. He's the president, and he's the person who has carved out these policies."

That was the problem. The spotlight is on Bush and unless Kerry sticks his neck out a little bit, Americans don't even know he exists on the issue. People don't have to know what he's going to do in detail --- in fact they don't want to listen to it. But, they must be convinced that Bush has screwed up the War on Terror and that he is now the greatest impediment to fixing it before they will be persuaded to abandon the president in "wartime." It's Kerry's job to make that case and then to persuade them that his experience, his philosophy and his leadership qualities make him the better man to get that job done. The Kerry campaign made a mistake in assuming that the press could do that for them. It appears they are changing course now. We'll see if the polls improve.


Mistah Kurtz's column explains some of the problem:

When President Bush delivered a routine stump speech to a group of New Mexico homeowners on March 26, CNN and Fox News each carried his appearance for 35 minutes, and MSNBC for 33 minutes.

When John Kerry gave what was billed as a major address on national security at George Washington University on March 17, he was knocked off the screen by a large explosion in Baghdad. CNN and Fox each dropped Kerry (who had been reduced to small box) after three minutes, and MSNBC never picked him up. But as the Iraq coverage continued, all three networks carried Vice President Cheney in California attacking Kerry as weak on national security -- Fox for 28 minutes, MSNBC for 23 and CNN for 13.

In the daily battle for airtime, Bush has drawn more than three times as much live cable coverage as his Democratic challenger, yet another example of the advantages of incumbency.

A review by The Washington Post, using a video monitoring service, finds that the cable news networks have covered more Bush events and stayed with them longer. From March 3, the day after the senator clinched the nomination, through Friday, they have devoted 12 hours and 11 minutes to live appearances by Bush -- including Tuesday's prime-time news conference, which was also carried by NBC, CBS and ABC. Kerry's live cable coverage during this period: 3 hours 47 minutes.

Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt calls the coverage "a testament to who's making news. . . . We think being on the cable news programs is very important because people who follow politics and cover politics keep a close eye on their TVs during the day."


MSNBC Vice President Mark Effron says that "we take more of President Bush when he's acting in his legitimate role as president of the United States." Yet even "if he's in a plant talking about the economy, for our world, that's news." Kerry, says Effron, "hasn't exactly been out there grandstanding and making a lot of news." But most of these appearances generate newspaper stories.

Politics is TV with the sound turned off. For many Americans, if you aren't on TV, you don't exist.

Extension Chord

Via Catch.com, this e-mail (excerpted) from the wife of a soldier in Iraq. She describes how her husband's company was literally waiting at the airport to leave for home when their tour was abruptly extended. Her husband briefly stayed behind but the rest of his unit was ambushed on their way back and one of the soldiers was killed:

This extension was a death sentence for that poor soldier. This extension cost three children their father. And it will cost much more. And now, to touchstone: My husband signed up so that he could go to college. If we would have forseen this, there is no way that he would have put his name on that dotted line. He has missed the birth of his third child.....he could die out there. He's supposed to be sitting safe in Kuwait right now, but instead, he's in a tent because their barracks were taken over by 1st Cavalry soldiers who went in to replace them. They haven't got enough food right now, because there are too many soldiers on that base, and DoD was too short sighted to think that they might end up needing more troops. All their stuff is out to sea at the time being, so they are just sitting ducks waiting for their equipment to come back. This is a fiasco and a logistical nightmare. DoD and Rummy have been denying that there is a troop shortage for MONTHS! General Shinseki predicted this and was forced to retire. In November, Senator McCain called for at least 15,000 more troops. Well, shucks, seems they were right after all.

This is why grunts in the military coin phrases like FUBAR, although this ranks right up there with the FUBARest civilian brass in history. Rummy simply refused to entertain the idea that his RMA, electronic battlefield, third wave wet dream wasn't working. Now, the shit comes down and you've got troops being extended at the very last minute and they don't even have enough food.

I heard McCain on the radio yesterday saying something about mistakes are always made in battle and yadda, yadda, yadda. He cited McArthur's gloriously successful Inchon landing maneuver which was followed by his absurd calculation that the Chinese wouldn't push back into the south as an example of a major achievement followed by a major mistake. Of course, he fails to mention that McArthur followed up that major mistake by insisting that we should start WWIII, and got fired for it, so I'm not sure how much water that argument holds. In any case, we are reaching a point where somebody needs to be fired. For my money, if you want to take care of the ongoing FUBAR problem, that somebody should be George W. Bush.

Monday, April 19, 2004

You Can Believe Me or You Can Believe Your Lyin' Eyes

Michael Tomasky gets to the point. It's really very simple:

My overwhelming reaction to the 60 Minutes segment on Bob Woodward's new book and the reports and leaks about the book over the weekend is that Woodward's account shows a man who just doesn't have the intellectual capacity to do this job. This may not strike some readers as a newsflash, I know, but Woodward does shed some new light on the question. Bush took this country in a radically new foreign-policy direction without really thinking through the consequences of his actions; without reckoning in a serious way with the question "What if we're wrong?"; without seeking the input of aides who might have disagreed or painted a more complex picture than the one he wanted painted for him. It's a profoundly irresponsible way to govern.

What his defenders will continue to call his "idealism" -- the belief that God put him in the Oval Office to spread liberty's bounty across the globe and so on -- is in fact a rather shocking shallowness. It's fine and indeed admirable for a world leader to speak this way, to aspire to greatness and fairness for his nation and for the world; Tony Blair did so in the run-up to the war, and his pro-war speeches were considerably more convincing than Bush's. But clearly, Bush actually believes this and looks at global geopolitics this way. This, too, might be fine, if it were balanced by more hard-headed and skeptical assessments, but Bush seems to have embraced it as a totalizing explanation. And as such, it has barred other interpretations of world events at the door.

Even this might be fine, if the consequences had not been so tragic. But once Bush transformed himself in his mind into God's messenger of liberty, things like the State Department's multi-volume report on post-war Iraq -- a report that predicted many of the tragedies that have come to pass -- became irrelevant. What was the research of mere mortals next to the fiery inscriptions of God, emblazoned across his welcoming mind?

And so hundreds are dead today who didn't need to die, because the possibility of their deaths was not supposed to be part of the great plan and therefore was not contemplated in its mandated fullness. There exists no acceptable definition of "idealism" by which the above qualifies as such. Neither is it quite malevolence. Dick Cheney is malevolent, all right, but he's not the president, at least officially; not the one making the final call. It is incompetence. It is shallowness. To put it more colloquially, it?s trying to wish something true; we've all done it in our private lives, so we all know how irresponsible it is.

And it's happening because the guy in charge doesn't know any better. Our first impression was, catastrophically, right.

Yessiree. But to listen to bespectacled, waspy, Episcopalean beltway insider Fred "Nascar" Barnes, this is wrong because "real Americans" like him don't need no stinkin' Kissingerian nuance.

I'll leave it to the inimitable Charles Pierce to retort:

One of the reactions to C-Plus Augustus's prime-time blithering that makes me truly angry is the notion that only elitist Blue Staters expect the president to get from a subject to an object without breaking an ankle, but that the good plain-spoken average American doesn't cotton to such book-larnin', consarn it.

What a huge steaming crock of beans. One of the nice things about being a sportswriter is that you actually get to see a lot of the country and you get to meet a lot of its people, many of them living in places that people like David Brooks and the Crazy Dolphin Queen visit only in their smug condescension. I have seen the sun rise over the Piedmont and I have seen it set over the Mississippi Delta. I know the way Puget Sound looks on a clear morning, and the way the snow blows straight up off the surface of Lake Superior on a cold afternoon. I know how the Ohio sounds, and how it sounds different from how the Fox River sounds. I have played bingo in Wisconsin and I have played poker in Reno and I have gambled on horses in the sweet breezes of Keeneland. I've seen Tracy Chapman in a subway, and Muddy Waters on a midway, and Bob Dylan at Bally's Grand on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. I have seen Michael Jordan play. I have been around.

Don't tell me what this country and its people think -- and, especially, don't be using that "We" thing to do it. Don't tell me that, as a nation, we can't distinguish courage from stubbornness, philosophy from platitudes, and an empty suit from a full one. Don't tell me we prize simplicity when you really mean we prize the simple. Don't tell me about my country and my countrymen, you smarmy, honorarium-fattened, makeup-encrusted hyenas. Don't you freaking dare. I been there.

And, by the way, all of her Beltway Heather pals should note that Peggy Noonan this week intimated that asking the president of the United States what in the hell he's doing makes you less of a real American. Go on. Go on the shows with her again, and know the contempt she feels for your craft. Then, go home and break every damn mirror you own.

It is foolish for Democrats to buy into the notion that it is too dangerous to question Bush's competence to do this job. That is blatent GOP propaganda designed to cow us into discarding a potent argument. The vast majority of American people don't follow politics to the extent that we junkies do and they don't care all that much about the details. But they are remarkably good at cutting through the bullshit when it's right in front of them.

Throughout the 90's the Republicans cried wolf on average of once or twice a week. Clinton was the anti-christ. A corrupt, murdering, philandering communist was running the country. When he was finally caught with his pants down (literally), the American people were fascinated but unmoved. His approval rating remained strong even through impeachment procedings. And that, of course, is what saved him.
And it was because they believed what they saw with their own eyes --- a competent president caught in an entertaining political spectacle that didn't affect their lives.

Bush is dumb. People can see that with their own eyes, too, and Fred Barnes knows it. That's the real subtext of that whole "the grown-ups are back in charge," nonsense. Most people thought that Bush was a middle of the road fella who would listen to his Dad if anything big came up and would calm the partisan waters. After all that wild sex with Clinton he was supposed to be the cigarette in the afterglow. But, they knew he was dumb. Times were so good that quite a few people didn't think it mattered all that much who was president.

After 9/11, people wanted to believe that Bush had risen to the occasion because it was too frightening to think otherwise. The GOP successfully framed criticism as lack of patriotism. And, as with Clinton's TV soap opera, the press liked the big budget war movie. So, for a short time Bush was seen as bold, resolute, strong, decisive, whatever. Unfortunately for him, he then made the huge mistake of selling a war on a demonstrably false premise. They can try to ignore that big fat GOP elephant in the middle of the room, but it isn't going away. There are no weapons of mass destruction and Bush is babbling about turkey farms and mustard gas. He can't testify before the 9/11 commission without Vice President Gepetto. Republicans are writing tell all books about his failures even before his first term is finished. Everyone is being reminded that he never was very bright.

Now, candidates and their surrogates can't go around saying that too obviously because people will begin to feel sorry for him. But, they should be constantly talking about the complexity of the problems we face. They should discuss what leadership really is and tie it in to experience, maturity, trust and brains.

And the rest of us should use humor to hammer the point home. I'll never forget Jon Stewert's countdown of the biggest stories of 2000. The top story of the year was Florida, naturally. We'd been watching footage from the state for one reason or another for the entire 12 months. He ran down the story of the recount and the supreme court decision and then said something like "and at the center of the storm that was Florida this year was one small frightened little boy." At which point he showed a picture of George W. Bush.

It was obvious then and it's obvious now that Bush is in over his head. And Fred Barnes's protestations to the contrary are as phony as Bush senior chomping on that bag of pork rinds.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Fools Rush In

The media reports of smiling Iraqis leading inspectors around, opening up buildings and saying, "See, there's nothing here," infuriated Bush, who then would read intelligence reports showing the Iraqis were moving and concealing things. It wasn't clear what was being moved, but it looked to Bush as if Hussein was about to fool the world again. It looked as if the inspections effort was not sufficiently aggressive, would take months or longer, and was likely doomed to fail.

George W. Bush, Master and Commander of the Royal order of the Codpiece had sworn that you could fool him once, but fool him twice ... won't get fooled again. And Saddam was trying to fool him.

As we all know, this is total crap because VP Gepetto had told GWB that he was going to war over a year before. The president rather endearingly thought he was making a decision that had long ago been made. He's so cute when he's confused.

You can't exactly blame the lil' guy, though. Condi Rice, obviously suffering from a late night of single gal Pinot Grigios with Gwen Ifill, groaned this pile of nonsense when Junior asked her if we should go to war:

"Yes," she said. "Because it isn't American credibility on the line, it is the credibility of everybody that this gangster can yet again beat the international system." As important as credibility was, she said, "Credibility should never drive you to do something you shouldn't do." But this was much bigger, she advised, something that should be done. "To let this threat in this part of the world play volleyball with the international community this way will come back to haunt us someday. That is the reason to do it."

It isn't about American credibility it's about international credibility. Credibility shouldn't drive you to do something you shouldn't do, but if you don't do this international credibility will suffer so you should do it.

This answer explains why Condi's was the only opinion he sought. His poor head ached for days after that one.

He knew what Vice President Cheney thought, and he decided not to ask Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"I could tell what they thought," the president recalled. "I didn't need to ask them their opinion about Saddam Hussein. If you were sitting where I sit, you could be pretty clear. I think we've got an environment where people feel free to express themselves."

Well, sort of:

In all the discussions, meetings, chats and back-and-forth, in Powell's grueling duels with Rumsfeld and Defense, the president had never once asked Powell, Would you do this? What's your overall advice? The bottom line?

Perhaps the president feared the answer. Perhaps Powell feared giving it. It would, after all, have been an opportunity to say he disagreed. But they had not reached that core question, and Powell would not push. He would not intrude on that most private of presidential space -- where a president made decisions of war and peace -- unless he was invited. He had not been invited.

Bush's meeting with Powell lasted 12 minutes. "It was a very cordial conversation," the president recalled. "It wasn't a long conversation," he noted. "There wasn't much debate: It looks like we're headed to war."

The president stated emphatically that though he had asked Powell to be with him and support him in a war, "I didn't need his permission."

He's so wonderfully masterful, isn't he? Especially for someone with his cognitive handicaps. It reminds me of Junior's quote in Woodward's BlowJob Part I:

"I'm the commander. See, I don't have to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

He didn't need to ask Powell for his opinion because he knew his opinion and anyway he didn't agree with it. Why bother listening to him go on and on and be so, like totally boring? Cheney and Rumsfeld were both telling him he should do it so there was no reason to ask them. They made him feel like a man. However, he did have to ask one other very, very important and highly experienced person her opinion on the matter:

"I asked Karen," the president recalled. "She said if you go to war, exhaust all opportunities to achieve [regime change] peacefully. And she was right. She actually captured my own sentiments."

It's pretty clear that Junior has no sentiments until he talks to Karen to find out what they are.

The only people Junior explicitly asked for opinions on whether to go to war with Iraq were Condi Rice and Karen Hughes. Both women told him he should do it --- Condi babbling something confused about playing international volleyball and Karen basically telling him to look both ways before crossing the street.

Meanwhile Vice President Richelieu sits in the corner saying nothing except a well timed "Saddam's toast" to our Secretary of Oil, Prince Bandar --- who is informed of our decision to go to war before anybody tells the Secretary of State.

Oh, sorry. Bush had informed one other person over the holidays:

The president also informed Karl Rove, his chief political strategist, of his decision over the holidays. Rove had gone to Crawford to brief Bush on the confidential plan for Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. While Laura Bush sat reading a book, Rove gave a PowerPoint presentation on the campaign's strategy, themes and timetable.

Opening his laptop, he displayed for Bush in bold letters on a dark blue background:


Strong Leader

Bold Action

Big Ideas

Peace in World

More Compassionate America

Cares About People Like Me

Leads a Strong Team

I don't think even Shakespeare could do this farce justice.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Onward Christian Soldiers

In two interviews with Woodward in December, Bush minimized the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction, expressed no doubts about his decision to invade Iraq, and enunciated an activist role for the United States based on it being "the beacon for freedom in the world."

"I believe we have a duty to free people," Bush told Woodward. "I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."

The president described praying as he walked outside the Oval Office after giving the order to begin combat operations against Iraq, and the powerful role his religious belief played throughout that time.

"Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. ... I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for personal strength and for forgiveness."

The president told Woodward that "I am prepared to risk my presidency to do what I think is right. I was going to act. And if it could cost the presidency, I fully realized that. But I felt so strongly that it was the right thing to do that I was prepared to do so."

Wow, that's quite a sacrifice. And hey, if it costs many thousands of other people their lives he's prepared to do that too.

Asked by Woodward how history would judge the war, Bush replied: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead."

Maybe sooner than we think.

An unelected simpleton feels strongly that he has a duty to free the world so the mightiest nation on earth has no choice but to do as he says.

Are freedom and democracy great, or what?


David Brooks admits that he has always been wrong about everything, but he's sure that in 20 years he will be right about something.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Freedom Crusade

Both TAPPED and the Political Animal praised Ron Klain's admonition against making mock of President Bush's invocation of religion in his press conference the other night. I think it's probably true that his statement about the "Almighty" giving the gift of freedom to every human being is inspiring to many Americans and shouldn't be laughed at. . However, Klain also seems to imply that the use of the term "unalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independence somehow justifies what appears to be a new global moral crusade to "bring freedom" to the world:

Rather than laughing at the president's invocation of the notion of natural rights to justify his policies in Iraq, Democrats should make it abundantly clear that they share the president's view that all humans are created free and are entitled to enjoy the benefit of that innate freedom. After all, wasn't the idea of an "unalienable" right to liberty put into writing in 1776 by the father of the Democratic Party, Thomas Jefferson? And more recently, haven't these been the ideals that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Gore pursued around the world -- often with great derision from conservatives?

Instead of belittling the president's reliance on the Almighty, Democrats should make clear that we share the president's goals but think that his methods have been deeply flawed. The mission may be from above, but the planning has been from someplace else.

I don't belittle his reliance on the Almighty, but straying from that to a messianic message of "spreading freedom" is quite obviously translating into the belief that the United States may use this as a pretext to invade countries irrespective of international law and civilized behavior. That kind of "liberation" is a goal I most vehemently do not share because the truth of the matter is that the United States is not imbued by the Almighty with omnipotence or any special claim to goodness and wisdom. Our crime statistics our justice system our poverty rate and any number of other serious flaws in our society prove this.

Freedom is a wonderful thing and I'm all for it, but I am a long way from being convinced that the United States of America is the best of all possible free worlds and I am deeply concerned by the idea that we are empowering leaders to take the position that we are so spectacularly superior to all other nations that it is an unalloyed good thing to "free" people around the world, including little children, even if it kills them. The price for this kind of liberation for many an individual is extremely high. It is very, very arrogant to assume that people are willing to pay it.

This is one good reason to have international institutions and a requirement for consensus before nations can go willy nilly "liberating" others. What we may see as "liberation" is oppression and exploitation to someone else, even within the US itself. We are not equipped either morally or intellectually to take this task upon ourselves. We simply do not have all the answers and Thomas Jefferson would be the first to admit that.

This is some dangerous shit, people. This is the kind of thing that makes people start humming "Ride Of The Valkyries," and talking about Ubermenschen. I thought the shop worn myth of American Exceptionalism was disturbing but the "American Freedom Crusade" scares the hell out of me.

Bush and Blair Transcript

Q: Mr. President, some of your critics are saying that it's a political ploy by you to stand firm to this June 30th deadline, especially that you don't have an Iraqi organization to transfer power over to. What do you say to that? And what organization would you like to see transferred power over to - both of you, if you could answer that?

BUSH: The important thing to know is that if you look into an Iraqi soul you will see someone who doesn't know what time it is. See, you have to remember these people come from a place where if you cut 'n run you wind up raped in a grave, gassed and maimed and they can't forget that so we have to be tough and stay the course. That's why I will lead a coalition of the willing and I WILL disarm Saddam Hussein.

You have to understand that we don't know what fear is because we are free. And we love freedom and being free and we want everybody to be free so they can love freedom everywhere where there can be freedom and people can be free. See, that means they'll have hope. When they think we might cut 'n run and not stay the course time goes by very slowly because you think there will be maiming and torture and killing and mass graves and gassing and then you won't know what freedom is because you won't be free like we are free and everyone else should be free. That's why we will smoke 'em out o' their caves, where the evil doers hide in spider holes hating freedom.

We are great countries because we believe that freedom is for everybody not just us so we will make everybody in the world free so the world will be a better place of peace and hope.

We will show these Iraqis that because they have been tortured and maimed and raped and gassed in massive rooms with their own people that what it takes to be civilized is a document we call the TAR. It's a fantastic historic opportunity for them to learn how to protect tough minorities. I told the Iraqis we are giving them the freedom to be civilized and I meant it.

And the Palestinians have a fantastic opportunity for freedom at this historic moment, too, because they will have a solid foundation of big institutions instead of people just like us. They will live in security measures of peace and freedom. That means folks need to view it as a historic moment so the Palestinian state can live in peace with its neighbors. It's a moment we've got to seize. Because final discussion will become a lot plainer once there's a peaceful state full of hope and freedom. See, you have to understand that we think it's possible because possible is what we think it is. If the Palestinians find peace and hope and the neighbors of the Palestinians will support the emergence of hope and peace in a peaceful state of hope it will be a fantastic opportunity to love their neighbors like they'd love to loved themselves.

This is a momentous, historic seizure. But, I don't want to put words in the Prime Minister's mouth:

BLAIR: Fuck. me.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Democratic Unity

Matt Stoller at The Blogging of the President has a very interesting post up about the "Democratic Coalition." I urge everyone to read it because it discusses the challenge of governing if we do manage to wrest the presidency from Junior and the Retreads.

Matt sees the Party as being split between four groups. First, there is the party apparatus which consists of Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman and the writers of The Nation who are basically concerned with preserving their power. The second group is made up of those like Howard Dean and Al Gore who are forward looking and believe in refreshing the talent pool rather than clinging to outmoded power structures. Then there is group three who are essentially reformers first and politicians later, many of them the independents and third party types who might work with Democrats if they are willing to reform themselves in a way that pleases them. The fourth are leftist vanity players like Kucinich and Sharpton who are the poster children for what the wing-nuts describe as the deviant left.

I think that Matt may be a bit unnecessarily cynical about group number one and perhaps a bit naive about group number two, but aside from that, I think this is a good definition of a large portion of the party. I do think that you can't discount the various constituency groups like unions, feminists, racial minorities and gays. This is an essential part of the coalition that is represented within our party for a reason --- Democrats care about these people and Republicans don't. Identity politics is a dirty phrase invented by the Wurlitzer to disparage Democrats.

I think that we will continue to have quite a bit of tension between all of these groups because well ... we always have. The Democratic Party does not respond well to top-down hierarchical models of governance which makes us intrinsically at odds. Even FDR had a helluva time keeping it together and he had the mandate of all mandates. I can certainly understand the outrage of the Dean supporter at being asked to sign a "unity pledge" at a Democratic Meet-up:

I was and still am a Dean supporter. I cannot speak for supporters of Clark, Edwards, Gephardt, etc., but the pledge is clearly directed at those of us that did not support Kerry in the primary campaign. Apparently the Democratic Party thinks that it needs us to sign a unity pledge, to prevent us from peeling off into apathy or Naderland. I have been a Democrat all my life, and don't feel that I need to sign anything to prove my loyalty, unity, status, etc.

Beyond that, I want to focus on the reason I was attracted to Dean in the first place. It was almost a year ago that I first saw Dean speak. He stepped up to the microphone and said "What I want to know is what all those Democrats in Washington are doing voting for George Bush's [x, y, or z]." That hooked me! For the first time, here was someone that understood that for the past 25 years the Democratic Party has been bending over and accommodating the Republicans. We've been letting ourselves get steamrolled ever since Day One of the Reagan Administration, and Dean was calling the party out on it!

So I should not be expected to sign a unity pledge, or loyalty oath, or anything like it. Nor should Howard Dean. The people that should be signing the pledge, in a very public ceremony, should be Terry McAuliffe, Al From and the rest of the DLC, and all the Democrats in the House and Senate, including John F. Kerry, who voted for the Republican war in Iraq and the Republican Patriot Act, John Edwards, who voted for the Republican war in Iraq and the Republican Patriot Act, and Dick Gephardt, who co-wrote the Republican Iraq war resolution, and Wesley Clark, who had the audacity to run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency when he wasn't even a Democrat.

Those are the people that need to be demonstrating that they will stand with the party!

Like I said, I would be outraged at being asked to sign any kind of "loyalty oath." I hate stuff like that and I think it is antithetical to everything Democrats are supposed to believe in. But, surely we can all see the internal inconsistency of the argument as expressed here, can't we?

"...The people who should be asked to sign a unity pledge ...in a very public ceremony ...are anybody...I ... don't...approve...of.

Matt says that this kind of rage is the result of a traditional party structure and he believes that someday the Party will "once again emerge as a source of self-expressive pride for a majority of the citizenry." I don't know that it ever has been that, really, but I certainly think it's possible.

However, I will be my usual dark Cassandra in this argument and issue my standard warning. There is a great big political battle going on with a bunch of guys who take no prisoners. We are not dealing with our daddy's Republican Party. They are not going to disappear and they are not going to allow us to enact a progressive agenda unimpeded. We'd best take that into account because simply reforming the Democratic Party into a fighting progressive voice for change ain't gonna get it done. We need every last person for this battle from all those awful DLC'rs and Democrats in the House and Senate to John Edwards to audacious faux Dem Wes Clark to Howard Dean. We don't have to sign any loyalty oaths but we do have to be serious and mature and understand how terribly difficult and how high the stakes are in trying to govern with the sort of opposition that puts a criminal like Tom DeLay into a leadership position. They will fight with everything they have.

If the Democrats take back the White House the Republicans are going to lose their minds, not because our party is faulty because theirs is. We need to remember that. We may be imperfect, but they are nuts.

Midterm Election Mistakes Redux

I've been supportive of John Kerry's need to find an acceptable strategy for dealing with this mess in Iraq. The fact is that until we wean ourselves from our childish dependence on gas guzzling penis-mobiles, we are probably not going to be able to simply leave Iraq now that we have totally destabilized the region with Bush's "call" to free the Iraqi's from their lives. I do think that with a different president we might be able to summon up some sort of legitimate multinational commmitment to pour money and manpower into the country and at least make a serious attempt to help the Iraqi people create a decent political system. I don't know if it will work, but I do know that it hasn't been tried and it needs to be. Like it or not --- and I don't --- unless we clean up this mess, the national security and economic ramifications are much more severe than I think people are willing to admit.

But, I also think Kerry's framing and delivery of this message is just terrible. The choice in this is not between "cutting and running" and "staying the course" or between being "thoughtful" and "thoughtless." It is between being honest and dishonest, persuasive and bullying, succeeding and failing. Kerry needs to sharpen his words and punch up his energy. This tepid me-tooism will not work. Having said that, I do think that Kerry is substantially right on the issue of Iraq.

On the other hand, this is simply mystifying:

"I think that could be a positive step," the Massachusetts senator said, approving of the Bush-Sharon action regarding both refugees and Israel's borders. "What's important obviously is the security of the state of Israel, and that's what the prime minister and the president, I think, are trying to address."

I guess things just aren't hot enough in the mideast right now.

Honestly, you can't get any more cravenly chickenshit than this. Not only is it a monumental change in American foreign policy, it is a blatant domestic political maneuver at exactly the wrong moment.

There is a possibility that the action by Bush could further aggravate the situation in Iraq, just as Israel's killing of a prominent Palestinian militant set off rioting in Iraq several weeks ago. Independent pollster John Zogby, who has surveyed extensively in the Arab world, said: "This is pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the peace process as far as Arabs are concerned." He said his polling indicates the Palestinian cause is among the top three issues for 90 percent of Arabs in all Arab countries he has surveyed. "It's not even a political issue, it's a bloodstream issue," Zogby said


"This will make it that much harder for John Kerry to win Florida," said a Republican aide on Capitol Hill who refused to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. Associates said Bush's strategists believe that even small inroads into the Jewish vote could mean the difference between winning and losing Florida, and several Republicans believe the announcement could further inhibit Kerry's fundraising in the Jewish community.

For one thing, for Kerry to agree that the Florida Jews --- most of whom are retired New Yorkers --- will vote for Bush because of this is to completely insult them. They aren't drooling idiots like so many of the GOP's blind followers. They have enough sophistication to understand the complexity of this situation, no matter how much they may yearn for Israel's safety and security.

And they, of all people, have a mighty motivation to oust Junior from the oval office. He and his followers have been calling them idiots for the last three years for not being able to decipher Teresa LaPore's ballot hieroglyphics. They wouldn't vote for Bush if Kerry soul-kissed Yassar Arafat on Saturday night Live.

I suppose that it is possible Kerry genuinely believes that jettisoning any hope of getting rid of the settlements or even a symbolic right of return is a good idea. If so, then we have serious problems because he apparently believes that the best way to negotiate is to take all of your negotiating cards off the table. Regardless of where you hope the process wil eventually lead, this is not good. Bush got rolled and Kerry threw his arms around his neck and rolled with him.

I am honestly stumped by this. If Kerry plans to win the election by endorsing all of Bush's insane foreign policy pronouncements then it's lost before it's begun. I don't demand that he abandon all pretense of moderation or that he embrace some sort of isolationism. I wouldn't support that much less do I think it would win the election. I do however expect him to at least object to the Bush administration's crazy, fucked up neocon wetdreams that are likely to get a lot of people --- including Americans --- killed.

If this really is all about fundraising then I think Billmon has it right:

It strikes me that bin Laden has been going about this all wrong. If he'd just started his own PAC, and spread enough money around, he probably could have gotten Congress to vote to blow up the World Trade Center.

Faux Outrage For Dummies

The incomparable Sommerby discusses the piece of RNC propaganda posing as news on the front page of the NY Times this morning. Jim Rutenberg dutifully parrots the painfully obvious Gillespin that the Democratic 9/11 commissioners (particularly Ben-Veniste) are blind partisans who are all over the television promoting themselves at the expense of truth, God and the American Way. This talking point was ALL over GOPTV yersterday, bursting forth from the mouths of every Bush shill from Tuckie Carlson to Brit Hume. In fact, I haven't seen a case of such perfect conformity since the Taiwanese synchronized swim team got a perfect 10.

It so happens I was listening to my local NPR station on the freeway last night when I heard none other than Thomas Kean, Republican commision chairman, saying that the commission was encouraging the commissioners to give intereviews in the interest of openness. Even in the Times article he's quoted saying:

"We made a conscious decision, and part of it was under strong pressure from the families, to make this commission as transparent and as visible as possible."

I guess Cheney's stooges forgot to tell Tommy that he was supposed to keep a lid on the bad news. Let's hope Fredo doesn't find out.

Sommerby points out the obvious fact that Ruttenberg doesn't name any actual Democrats complaining about this openness (although they certainly could --- John Lehman is all over the place, too.) He says they are, but can't seem to quote one on or off the record. Maybe Zell's trying to keep a lower profile these days. But, the fact is that this is step two in the coordinated GOP effort to discredit the 9/11 committee and anyone with half a brain can spot it a mile away. (Gingerly trashing the widows was step one.)

I'm of the opinion that the single most partisan act of the commission hearings came from the Attorney General of the United States when he appeared before them and testified as if he were a political hatchet man for Dick Nixon. Now that was a little bit unseemly, in my book. (And in Gary Hart's book too.) But, apparently Jim Rutenberg loves those red kool-aid kamikazes they're serving up down at RNC headquarters so much that he can't help but grab Karl Rove's dictation and yank for all he's worth.

The NY Times is playing its useful idiot role once again. To use one of Karen Hughes's favorite words, I'm sure the Republicans find that "comforting."

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Liberal radio stations silenced

I wondered what the hell was going on when I turned on Franken and heard Spanish language radio. I know someone who works for Arthur Liu and he's a certifiable nutcase.

Update: Air America responds

Yep. He's Naked

The New York Times finally notices that the Emperor has no clothes:

...his responses to questions were distressingly rambling and unfocused.

...his rhetoric, including the repetition of the phrase "stay the course," did not seem to indicate any fresh or clear thinking about Iraq, despite the many disturbing events of recent weeks.

...Mr. Bush seemed to entertain no doubts about the rightness of his own behavior, no questions about whether he should have done something in response to the domestic terrorism report he received on Aug. 6, 2001.

...The United States has experienced so many crises since Mr. Bush took office that it sometimes feels as if the nation has embarked on one very long and painful learning curve in which every accepted truism becomes a doubt, every expectation a question mark. Only Mr. Bush somehow seems to have avoided any doubt, any change.

He was no more incoherent and stubbornly repetitive than usual last night. All you have to do is go back and read the transcripts of his other press conferences to see that he has always been this bizarrely robotic, unresponsive and ill informed. For some reason the press in this country decided not to notice for over 3 years that our president obviously has no grasp of the the complicated issues he faces.

It's good that they are finally beginning to say something, but an awful lot of misery could have been prevented if they had done their job and instead of regurgitating RNC lies about Al Gore had reported the fact that the Republicans had nominated an idiot to run the most powerful country in the world.

I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet...I hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.

This is the most powerful man in the world.

Update: NT Times Link fixed.

And Will Saleton has the stomach to deconstruct Junior's press conference. It's not pretty.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

He Must Be Defeated

The Teacher's Aid in Chief lectures the American people as if they are just as stupid as he is. As usual, he filibusters with his puerile incoherent blather, going on and on and on not making any sense, projecting arrogance and ignorance in equal measure.

I am deeply ashamed to be American right now.

Consummate Prick

Has there ever been a more blatantly partisan Attorney General than the Crisco Kid? This testimony today was contemptuous, dishonest and disturbingly inappropriate. In any other administration someone who acted out as he did today would be fired:

Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly defended the Bush administration and himself today before the 9/11 commission, laying the blame for intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks squarely on the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Mr. Ashcroft said Al Qaeda was able to plan and carry out the attacks that killed some 3,000 people in large part because of policies of the Clinton administration and its deliberate neglect of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's computer technology.


Mr. Ashcroft said that to the contrary, he personally went to the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, on March 7, 2001, and urged her to scuttle what he characterized as an ineffective policy of the Clinton administration specifying that Mr. bin Laden had to be captured, and only in a way that lawyers would approve.

"Even if they could have penetrated bin Laden's training camp, they would have needed a battery of attorneys to approve the capture," Mr. Ashcroft said sarcastically.

Mr. Ashcroft said that he wanted "decisive, lethal action" and had told Ms. Rice, "We should find and kill bin Laden."

The attorney general sounded almost contemptuous as he spoke of a "legal wall" put into effect in 1995 to separate criminal investigators from intelligence agents in an effort to safeguard individual rights.

I'm afraid that Mr Ashcroft has a strange understanding of his job description. It was not his responsibility to tell the administration that he "wanted decisive, lethal action" overseas. It was his responsibility to deal with terrorism threats in the United States, a responsibility he failed miserably to meet.

I believe that he lied outright today when he denied (under oath) that he told Picker that he didn't want to hear about terrorism anymore.

BEN-VENISTE: And according to the statement that our staff took from you, you said that you would start each meeting discussing either counterterrorism or counterintelligence. At the same time the threat level was going up and was very high. Mr. Watson had come to you and said that the CIA was very concerned that there would be an attack. You said that you told the attorney general this fact repeatedly in these meetings. Is that correct?

PICKARD: I told him at least on two occasions.

BEN-VENISTE: And you told the staff according to this statement that Mr. Ashcroft told you that he did not want to hear about this anymore. Is that correct?

PICKARD: That is correct.


"First of all, Acting Director Pickard and I had more than two meetings," Mr. Ashcroft said evenly. "We had regular meetings."

And far from turning away from briefings on terrorism, Mr. Ashcroft said, "I care greatly about the safety and security of the American people and was very interested in terrorism, and specifically interrogated him about threats to the American people, and domestic threats in particular."

All of his actions indicate that he didn't want to hear about terrorism. I'll be expecting some harsh words from Senator Catkiller on the floor of the Senate tomorrow. Words like perjury and "letter of resignation."

Yeah, I know. And people in hell want icewater.


A couple of other questions I'd like to see raised in Junior's thrid prime time news conference:

1) Three months ago you proposed an ambitious multi-billion plan to send a mission to Mars and establish a permanent base on the moon in the next few years to harvest materials to process into rocket fuel and breathable air. How much of a priority will you place on this initiative in a second Bush administration?

2) There is no mention in your speeches of your immigration proposal announced this January, allowing large numbers of foreign guest workers to temporarily work legally in the United States. Do you plan to put the muscle of the White House behind the legislation proposals sponsored by Senators McCain and Hagel this session?


E.J Dionne quotes Bush at a fund raiser last week saying: "We stand for a culture of responsibility in America. We're changing the culture of this country from one that has said, if it feels good, do it, and if you got a problem, blame somebody else, to a culture in which each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life."

I heard that fundraising speech (dutifully shown in its entirely live on CNN) and I too was struck by the unbelievable irony of his statement. It's actually beyond ironic. It's deluded.

In my fantasy America a reporter would repeat those lines to Bush tonight and then ask him if he thinks there are any problems --- from 9/11 failures to the economy to Iraq --- for which he bears any responsibility.

But, I'm sure that is impossible. Instead, we will hear the "journalists" ask him something like "how soon will you be able to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq?" at which point he'll filibuster incoherently for half an hour blathering on about good 'n evul 'n thugs 'n caves 'n smoken 'em out. Then he'll tell a reporter how ugly he is and everyone willl laugh uproariously at his comedic genius and go home.

Ahmad At The Helm

I said the other day that I didn't know how to fix the problem in Iraq, but I do know that a good first step would be to uncermoniously dump that charlatan opportunist Ahmad Chalabi. According to this Cheney and Wolfowitz are as committed to him as ever:

Why did they do it? It seemed a safe bet to the civilian echelon policymakers at the Department of Defense when they approved Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer's fateful decision to close down the newspaper of Muqtada al-Sadr and to arrest an aide to the young firebrand Shiite cleric. Even after Shiite Iraq had erupted into fury over the moves on Saturday, April 3, top-level Pentagon policymakers were privately still convinced it was all a storm in a teacup.

A small event on Sunday, April 4, the very day after the move against al-Sadr prompted the revolt, provides the missing piece to the puzzle. For that was when the CPA announced the name of Iraq's putative new defense minister for the post-June 30 government. His name is Ali Allawi and he is a loyal, close associate of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress. More, he is Chalabi's nephew.


There is no way that the move against al-Sadr was undertaken without Chalabi's prior knowledge and explicit approval. Instead, given the extraordinary degree to which the Pentagon policymakers and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to privately disparage the far more accurate, sober and reliable professional assessments of the U.S. Army's own tactical military intelligence in Iraq, it appears clear that, yet again, Chalabi was the tail that wagged the dog. He could have been expected to urge the move on al-Sadr in the first place.

The benefit to him is obvious. Chalabi believes -- as do his still-worshipful Pentagon backers -- that he has the blessing of supposedly moderate Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the mainstream chief religious authority of the Iraqi Shiites, to take power on July 1 with the force of 110,000 U.S. soldiers and their automatic weapons behind him.

However, just as the neocons lead President Bush by the nose, and Chalabi leads them by the nose, Sistani and the Iranians have been leading him by the nose.

Sistani's policy toward the CPA and Chalabi has been no different from the way he survived as an ayatollah all those years under Saddam Hussein, which was no mean feat. Sistani is playing a cautious waiting game and avoiding the ire of those who currently are top dog in Baghdad. He will drop Chalabi -- and the United States -- at the drop of a hat as soon it becomes clear that they cannot run or tame Iraq.


The myth of Iraqization of this war is now dead. The Pentagon masterminds remain determined to push Chalabi through as prime minister and absolute ruler of Iraq de facto on July 1. GOP heavyweights have even been assured around Washington that hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks from U.S. companies to Chalabi to do business in Iraq will be used for a good cause: to spread democracy in -- read, destabilize -- neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Political Warrior

Kos and Susan are asking: "Why is Kerry running?"

Obviously, there are many reasons any person runs for president having to do with ego and accident. After observing him for a while, I think John Kerry is responding to the call in the 30 year political civil war with the Republicans. He understands that they have become dangerously radical and that it's time to break their hold on power. He knows this territory.

In that sense, I confess I'm surprised that liberals aren't taking more heart in the fact that John Kerry is a card carrying fighting Massachusetts liberal. We should be thrilled that somebody as liberal as Kerry has got a chance to be president. Because let's not kid ourselves, anybody more liberal than John Kerry is unelectable. The last non-southerner was JFK (with the younger JFK sitting on the left):

He's not a crook, he's not lazy, he's not stupid. He's very accomplished, he's highly experienced and he's got good instincts. But, I'm convinced that the most important character traits in a successful President at this point in history are resiliance and cunning; even if we win the election, politics are going to remain a bloodsport. The Republicans aren't going to fade away. This battle is ongoing and we must have someone who can withstand a punch and come back. It is going to be very, very difficult to govern. I think Kerry is running not because he's "electable," but because he's one of the few Democrats of his generation who has spent his life preparing to govern in the face of a radical political opposition. The job is not for the fainthearted.

But, even if you don't believe that any of that is tue, I think it is safe to say that the Democratic nominee for president is always going to be running to one degree or another:

To protect and defend the citizens of the United States.

To preserve the separation of church and state

To safeguard the right to choose.

To provide a decent safety net

To encourage progressive taxation

To protect the environment

To advance civil liberties and civil rights

To govern transparently

To provide opportunity

To promote equality

To advance progress

To preserve the American way of Life

These are good reasons to feel ok about voting for John Kerry. The other side has very different ideas.


Upon reflection I think I failed to make clear the fact that I believe that right now the Democrats are essentially the conservative party, which means as great an emphasis on preservation as progress. This comes as a result of the two party system that places us in contrast to the radical Republican paarty which seeks to overturn the New Deal and dissolve the international order of the last 50 years. By necessity, our candidates are not going to be able to run on as progressive a platform as many of us might wish. One has to take into consideration the nature of the opposition and the character of the body politic when framing a case.

Kerry is not a reformer as Dean was perceived to be, nor is he a champion of a particular constituency as Gephardt was. But, perhaps at a time like this it is more helpful to judge the candidate by the quality of his enemies than his friends. His career has been about fighting bad guys, from Vietnam to Dick Nixon to BCCI.

In light of that, I believe Kerry is running for the simple reason that this time and place requires somebody who has the experience and character to keep the country secure while fighting back a rabid political opposition at home and a series of difficult threats overseas. His life has uniquely prepared him for this political moment.

For a similar perspective read Soldier For Peace in todays Salon.

Sr. Comedy Correspondent

Gawd, how I hate pretentious, boring people telling me what's funny and what isn't:

To be honest, I was never a huge fan of Stewart's humor, which he custom-crafts for a mostly college-age audience. "The Daily Show"'s intention of showing clips from the news in order to mock the conventional coverage of the news and get to the bottom of what's really going on in the world always seemed to me too dependent on the thing it derided--the comic equivalent of covering an old song. Stewart's deflate-the-talking-heads shtick consists too much of sarcastic jibes at the Pompous or Deceitful Public Figure, at the Underlying Reality of Self-Interest; it's more like throwing fruit than making jokes.


Stewart can be funny when he's not playing his new role as comique engage, though it's strange that he can't mimic or do accents--he's the only American comic I've ever heard who can't do a British accent. My Korean grocer can do a British accent. Most peculiar is that he keeps using the identical outrageous-silly voice Johnny Carson patented decades ago. Maybe someone should give him a nudge. But the really discouraging thing is that nowadays, Stewart seems to consider it more important to be a good citizen than a funny fellow. According to the newspapers, a substantial number of younger viewers actually get their news from "The Daily Show." So for some time now, Stewart doesn't just want to skewer the conventional news and the mendacious politicians. He wants to clarify the news, and to educate his audience.

Yeah, well, it's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it.

The result is that Stewart weighs down his jokes with a kind of Government 101 knowingness. He's not just funny about politics, you see, he's savvy about the way the system works, and he's going to help us through the maze. In Washington, "you have to cut through the partisan gridlock just to get to the bureaucratic logjam." Stop, you're killing me.

Methinks that journalist, TV critic and all around pompous ass Lee Siegel just doesn't get the joke. But that's not surprising. He is, after all, the punch line.

Damn Right

I said it before and I'll say it again, Howard Dean is the guy to make the case against Nader. He understands that you can't take anything for granted. He's got my gratitude.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Brain Damage

Q Mr. President, could you tell us, did you see the presidential -- the President's Daily Brief from August of '01 as a warning --

THE PRESIDENT: Did I see it? Of course I saw it; I asked for it.

Q No, no, I'm sorry -- did you see it as a warning of hijackers? And how did you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT: My response was exactly like then as it is today, that I asked for the Central Intelligence Agency to give me an update on any terrorist threats. And the PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat. There was not a time and place of an attack. It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to?

As you might recall, there was some specific threats for overseas that we reacted to. And as the President, I wanted to know whether there was anything, any actionable intelligence. And I looked at the August 6th briefing, I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into. But that PDB said nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America -- well, we knew that.

Yes, Dave.

Q Just to follow up on that, Mr. President. There was, in that PDB, specific information about activity that may speak to a larger battle plan, even if it wasn't specific. So I wonder if you could say what specifically was done, and do you think your administration should have done anything more?

THE PRESIDENT: David, look, let me just say it again: Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack. I would have done everything I can. My job is to protect the American people. And I asked the intelligence agency to analyze the data to tell me whether or not we faced a threat internally, like they thought we had faced a threat in other parts of the world. That's what the PDB request was. And had there been actionable intelligence, we would have moved on it.

I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to in the PDB, but if you're referring to the fact that the FBI was investigating things, that's great, that's what we expect the FBI to do.

Q Wasn't that current threat information? That wasn't historical, that was ongoing.

THE PRESIDENT: Right, and had they found something, they would have reported it to me. That's -- we were doing precisely what the American people expects us to do: run down every lead, look at every scintilla of intelligence, and follow up on it. But there was -- again, I can't say it as plainly as this: Had I known, we would have acted. Of course we would have acted. Any administration would have acted. The previous administration would have acted. That's our job.

Q Are you satisfied, though, that each agency was doing everything it should have been doing?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what the 9/11 Commission should look into, and I hope it does. It's an important part of the assignment of the 9/11 Commission. And I look forward to their recommendations, a full analysis of what took place. I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America -- at a time and a place, an attack. Of course we knew that America was hated by Osama bin Laden. That was obvious. The question was, who was going to attack us, when and where, and with what. And you might recall the hijacking that was referred to in the PDB. It was not a hijacking of an airplane to fly into a building, it was hijacking of airplanes in order to free somebody that was being held as a prisoner in the United States.

"I am very aware of the cameras," [Bush] recalled later. "I'm trying to absorb that knowledge. I have nobody to talk to. I'm sitting in the midst of a classroom with little kids, listening to a children's story and I realise I'm the Commander in Chief and the country has just come under attack."

Update: Skippy has some questions for the Teacher's Aid In Chief.

What, Charles Manson Turned Them Down?

Tim at The Road To Surfdom notes that the good news is they don't seem likely to appoint Paul Wolfowitz as Ambassador to Iraq. The bad news is that the new name being floated is a war criminal:

In Washington, two U.S. officials said John Negroponte, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to be the first U.S. ambassador to post-Saddam Iraq.

One of the officials said Negroponte, a favorite of Secretary of State Colin Powell, (wtf?) has been asked whether he would take the job. But no imminent announcement is expected from the White House, because President Bush and his aides do not want to turn U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer into a lame duck.

If nominated and confirmed, Negroponte would oversee what is expected to be one of the largest U.S. embassies in the world. He has held numerous top posts before, including ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan administration's covert war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

That's certainly true. He has tons of experience with the kinds of "harsh measures" that the hawks now believe are going to be called for. What this article fails to mention is that:

...Negroponte -- ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 -- was doing his best to make sure that news of torture, disappearances and killings by the U.S.-trained Honduran military didn't make it back to Congress or the American people, where it might discourage funding for the covert wars.

More than $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer money flowed to the Honduran military during the 1980s. The country served as the primary U.S. base for waging its clandestine wars against communism -- specifically in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The CIA trained and financed a Honduran army unit known as Battalion 316, which kidnapped and tortured hundreds of people. Negroponte denied knowing of the human rights violations though the abuses were widely publicized in the Honduran press. A CIA document declassified in 1998 and made available by the nonprofit National Security Archive, acknowledged that the Honduran military had committed abuses which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned.

"The focus of my efforts were in shoring up Honduras's own defenses," Negroponte said in a 1999 CNN interview. "So we worked on building up their military, and building their self-confidence. ... We served as a sort of rear area, if you will, on a modest scale for the efforts in El Salvador." Some 75,000 Salvadorans died in the civil war in that country.

Just a cursory look at the record shows that Negropont is being much too "modest."

Negroponte supervised the creation of the El Aguacate air base, where the US trained Nicaraguan Contras and which critics say was used as a secret detention and torture center during the 1980s. In August 2001, excavations at the base discovered 185 corpses, including two Americans, who are thought to have been killed and buried at the site.

Records also show that a special intelligence unit of the Honduran armed forces, Battalion 3-16, trained by the CIA and Argentine military, kidnaped, tortured and killed hundreds of people, including US missionaries. Critics charge that Negroponte knew about these human rights violations and yet continued to collaborate with the Honduran military while lying to Congress.

In May 1982, a nun, Sister Laetitia Bordes, who had worked for ten years in El Salvador, went on a fact-finding delegation to Honduras to investigate the whereabouts of thirty Salvadoran nuns and women of faith who fled to Honduras in 1981 after Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination. Negroponte claimed the embassy knew nothing. But in a 1996 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Negroponte's predecessor, Jack Binns, said that a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women Bordes had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, and then later thrown out of helicopters alive.

In early 1984, two American mercenaries, Thomas Posey and Dana Parker, contacted Negroponte, stating they wanted to supply arms to the Contras after the U.S. Congress had banned further military aid. Documents show that Negroponte brought the two with a contact in the Honduran armed forces The operation was exposed nine months later, at which point the Reagan administration denied any US involvement, despite Negroponte's participation in the scheme. Other documents uncovered a plan of Negroponte and then-Vice President George H. W. Bush to funnel Contra aid money through the Honduran government.

During his tenure as US ambassador to Honduras, Binns, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, made numerous complaints about human rights abuses by the Honduran military and he claimed he fully briefed Negroponte on the situation before leaving the post. When the Reagan administration came to power, Binns was replaced by Negroponte, who has consistently denied having knowledge of any wrongdoing. Later, the Honduras Commission on Human Rights accused Negroponte himself of human rights violations.

Speaking of Negroponte and other senior US officials, an ex-Honduran congressman, Efrain Diaz, told the Baltimore Sun, which in 1995 published an extensive investigation of US activities in Honduras:

Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.

The Suns's investigation found that the CIA and US embassy knew of numerous abuses but continued to support Battalion 3-16 and ensured that the embassy's annual human rights report did not contain the full story.

Is this the right man for the job, or what? Saddam would be proud to know that we were considering sending in a man who understands the unpleasant "necessities" required to lead Iraq --- torture, kidnapping and mass graves. If John Negropont becomes the ambassador, we will be making sure that Saddam's legacy lives on. And, I think we can safely put to bed any more protestations about freedom, democracy and "liberation."

Sending A Message

Several American and Iraqi officials now regard Bremer's move to close the newspaper as a profound miscalculation based on poor intelligence and inaccurate assumptions. Foremost among the errors, the officials said, was the lack of a military strategy to deal with Sadr if he chose to fight back, as he did.


as with the campaign against Sadr, the military plan to quell Fallujah appears to have been based on faulty assumptions. Instead of disgorging the insurgents, many residents rallied to support them by joining the fight against the Marines. People in other cities, including Shiites who used to regard Fallujah's residents as the hillbillies of Iraq, rushed to donate blood and money. Sunnis in Fallujah and elsewhere in central Iraq who had deemed Sadr a troublemaker began to laud him as a hero.

All of a sudden, Bremer had not just a two-front war on his hands, but one in which each side was drawing strength from the other.

Does anyone in this administration ever make a decision based upon sound intelligence and accurate assumptions? Do they even try to obtain them? And, they have never planned anything beyond the next morning or developed a fall back strategy in case something goes wrong.

The military began to assemble plans to go after Sadr, an initiative that was blessed by Bremer and the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz also favored taking action against Sadr, a senior military officer at the Pentagon said.

But the overall commander for the Middle East at the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid, was hesitant to move on Sadr out of concern that arresting or killing him would simply elevate his stature, the officer said. Moderate Shiite clerics also advised the occupation authority against an arrest.

Well, Abazaid is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, speaks fluent Arabic and has an understanding of the people and the region. Thank goodness nobody listens to him. Wolfowitz is the guy with the great track record, after all:

When Bremer ordered the shutdown of al-Hawza, there was no intention to use force to apprehend Sadr or leaders of his militia, according to occupation authority officials familiar with the decision.

One U.S. official said there was not even a fully developed backup plan for military action in case Sadr opted to react violently. The official noted that when the decision was made, there were very few U.S. troops in Sadr's strongholds south of Baghdad. That area has been under the jurisdiction of multinational military divisions that had failed to move aggressively against the cleric's militia.

The newspaper closure was intended "to send another signal to Sadr, just like telling him about the arrest warrant," the official said. "In hindsight, it was a huge mistake. The best-case scenario was that he would ignore it, like the earlier threat, or that he would capitulate. The worst case was that he would lash back. But we weren't ready for that.


At the time, occupation authority officials figured that Sadr had between 3,000 and 6,000 militiamen, only 2,000 of whom were armed fighters -- a figure that turned out to be a vast underestimate. "We were relying on the most optimistic predictions possible," the official said.

Officials in Washington familiar with the deliberations of both the National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they knew of no high-level meetings before the closure of Sadr's paper in which either group reviewed military plans girding for a possible violent backlash.

But the officials said that the decision to move against Sadr was fully supported by senior Bush administration officials. And while top officials may not have been familiar with military details, one senior administration official said that Washington had repeatedly advised Bremer and U.S. commanders in Iraq to ensure they were prepared for trouble if they went after Sadr.

"Every time we talked with Baghdad about taking any action against Sadr, we always talked about the need to have proper preparations in place to deal with a violent reaction," the official said.

Looks like Bremer's being cut loose. No wonder he looked like he'd ben hit between the eyes with a 2x4 this morning on Press the Meat.

Senor said the decision to move against Sadr in late March was prompted by "a real trend in the ramping-up of very inciteful, highly provocative rhetoric" from Sadr "that was directed at promoting violence against Americans during a very emotional time."

"We believe we had a responsibility to address it head-on," he said. "We had a concern that if he was left unchecked, Americans could wind up getting killed."

That certainly worked out well.

I think Americans have to give some serious thought to this entire concept of "sending a message." From abstinence education to "shock and awe" this method of governance almost seems designed to invoke the law of unintended consequences. Perhaps it's time to think about real policies based upon sound information and contingency plans.

The messages we are sending --- hubris, incompetence and ignorance --- are toxic. And it's going to get increasingly dangerous to you and me personally. Anti-Americanism isn't necessarily directed at "the American people" at this point. However, if we give this administration another term that is going to change. Right now, most people understand that the majority of Americans did not vote for this man. But, the rest of the world will hold us responsible if we elect him legitimately in spite of what we now know about him. That, after all, is the message that Democracy sends.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

PBDing His Pants

William Schneider on CNN just said that the memo is very damaging to the president. He said that basically the only thing they didn't know in advance was the date the attacks were to take place.

First Bush lost Fineman. Now he's lost Schneider.

Dream Team

Kevin at catch.com finds Instapundit sinking to a new low. Novak and Coulter must be so pleased.

A Madame Zoya Foreign Policy

Via Roger Ailes I found this remarkable example of total incoherence on the Right:

Fighting terrorism as well as rogue dictators requires a policy of pre-emption. During the 1930s, there should have been a pre-emptive strike on Nazi Germany. If Britain and France had the guts to do that, 60 million lives lost in World War II might have been spared. After World War II, when we held a monopoly on nuclear weapons, we should have told the Soviet Union that if it started making nuclear weapons we'd bomb its facilities. We would have avoided Soviet adventurism and trillions of dollars fighting a Cold War. Today, we should give axis-of-evil member North Korea notice to destroy its nuclear weapons or we'll do it for them.

Well, it would be nice if our intelligence services could find their way out of a paper bag and provide us with, you know, real information about threats before we go around blowing shit up, but why sweat the small stuff?

I do like this new crystal ball theory of history, though. Just think, if France and Britain had pre-emptively "struck" Germany they could have prevented WWII. If we had pre-emptively "struck" the Soviets we could have prevented the Cold War. And presumably if the British had pre-emptively invaded France they could have prevented the Napoleonic Wars, too. But, I have to suppose that by "strike" he means some kind of magical incantation that paralyzes the population, because otherwise he's talking about starting wars and that usually means that those who are "struck," strike back. Which also means that unless you are willing to nuke the population or occupy it with an iron hand indefinitely, a war is going to result when somebody strikes. He apparently thinks that's fine it's just best if we do the starting.

But, not to worry. I think he also believes that the world will be so impressed by our ability to accurately foretell who is and isn't a threat that they'll just take our word for it and capitulate before we are forced to get really ugly. America is omnipotent and the sooner everybody gets with the program the safer they'll all be. That's what our great success in Iraq is all about. And it's working beautifully.

Let Us Pray

Apparently, we should not be overly upset about the casualties in Iraq because there haven't been as many as in World War II.

One of Instapundit's readers says:

About 2,500 young men from the Allied nations died on June 6, 1944. 12,000 Americans died in three months' fighting for Okinawa. While some members of the press (Fox included) might consider themselves honoring the fallen by referring to 12 heroes as "heavy casualties," they in fact have done a disservice to the concept of sacrifice and a nation's endurance of it in war. Andrew Sullivan asked us to pray for the Marines in Fallujah; I think we ought to start a prayer with "Dear Lord, please lead members of the press to a doggoned history book. Or Google."

"Dear Lord, please lead Instapundit's readers to the chapter on WWII in which it says that Germany declared war on the US, overran most of Europe and invaded Russia and may they read the part where it shows the US was attacked by Japan. After that perhaps they could be led to Google to find out how many casualties were suffered over all in WWII in countries from one end of the globe to the other. May you then remind them that the war we fought then was one of survival, not one of choice based upon lies, bad information and optimistic scenarios --- and that the lesson of that war was that wars of aggression would never again be sanctioned by the civilized world. Until now.

Finally, Dear Lord, may you hand them each an apple and an orange and explain to them the difference. Amen."

Why Do You Hate Civilization So Much?

Thank goodness we finally have somebody dispassionately assessing the situation in Iraq and telling it like it is. You see, when David Brooks isn't scarfing up mini meals at Red Lobster, our intrepid war correspondent is bravely chatting to people who are "familiar with the region" and they fill him in on the real skinny in Iraq. It's a coupla opportunistic thugs and some ungrateful punks trying to take advantage of our goodness, that's all. Lucky for us our leaders are resolved and bold while being cool, bold and resolved:

Most important, leadership in the U.S. is for once cool and resolved. This week I spoke with leading Democrats and Republicans and found a virtual consensus. We're going to keep the June 30 handover deadline. We're going to raise troop levels if necessary. We're going to wait for the holy period to end and crush Sadr. As Joe Lieberman put it, a military offensive will alienate Iraqis, but "the greater risk is [Sadr] will grow into something malevolent." As Charles Hill, the legendary foreign service officer who now teaches at Yale, observed, "I've been pleasantly surprised by the boldness and resolve."

Nonetheless, yesterday's defections from the Iraqi Governing Council show that populist pressure on the good guys is getting intense. Maybe it is time to pause, to let passions cool, to let the democrats marshal their forces. If people like Sistani are forced to declare war on the U.S., the gates of hell will open up.

Over the long run, though, the task is unavoidable. Sadr is an enemy of civilization. The terrorists are enemies of civilization. They must be defeated.

Nevah Give Up, Nevah Give In, nevah, nevah, nevah!

(Oh, sorry about that. I just got carried away with Field Marshall Brooks's gripping call to arms for a minute.)

So, Sadr is an enemy of civilization, now, not just the US. (Or have the two words become synonymous?) Jeez, you used to have to commit genocide or gas your own people or mastermind a huge terrorist act to be an enemy of civilization. Now all you have to do is incite a couple of days of violence in Iraq. If that's the new definition I have a feeling that the list of enemies of civilization is going to get mighty unwieldy.

These people are going to be liberated, goddamit, whether they like it or not! Civilization depends on it.


I'm aware that Sadr is a fundamentalist extremist in the mode of the Taliban. He is the last person anyone would want to see in power. But, it is not helpful to simplify this problem by saying that we are dealing with "thugs" or to unnecessarily inflate it to a clash of civilizations.

The problem in Iraq is political. We are witnessing the entirely predictable struggle for power that the US refused to admit would happen and for which they refused to prepare. Our bedfellows, from the likes of Chalabi on the one hand to Bahr Ul Iloom on the other, illustrate that we had no principles in choosing the new leaders of Iraq and the result is that the hothead we marginalized is making use of the anti-Americanism that predictably resulted from a badly run occupation. Kill Sadr tomorrow and he'll be replaced by somebody just like him. Meanwhile the IGC is coming apart at the seams.

This isn't a clash of civilizations. It's the beginning of another civil war that the US finds itself in the middle of because of a feckless foreign policy. I'm beginning to think that the chickenhawks are simply reliving their youth. Once again they are sitting comfortably at home, cheering from the sidelines, willfully misinterpreting the facts while others die for the cause they support. These are the good old days.